Thank you for this opportunity to testify before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China regarding on our recommendations to the next United States Congress and Administration on human rights in Tibet. This is my first testimony before the United States Congress following my appointment as Representative of H.H. the Dalai Lama to the Americas. Therefore, I would like to begin with offering the gratitude of the Tibetan people to the United States Congress for your consistent and strong support to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan issue.
Through its elections the United States and the American people have shown democracy in practice. Following the results, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has written to both President-Elect Donald Trump and Secretary Hillary Clinton. His Holiness further looks forward to meeting with the new President, just as he has done with the previous several presidents.
At the outset, for those who don’t much about Tibet, I wish to present few basic facts. Some people feel that Tibet is a very small country nestled in the Himalayas. Factually, Tibet with close to 6 million Tibetans live on 2.14 Million Sq. Kms, roughly 23% of China’s total landmass. Tibet has an average altitude of 4641 meters or 15226 feet above sea level. Tibetans call Tibet as the Land surrounded by snow mountains; westerners called Tibet as the roof of the world; Asians call Tibet as the water tower of Asia and today Chinese environmental scientists call Tibet as the third pole because of the amount of glaciers and permafrost that feeds all the major rivers of Asia.
On the matter of our recommendations, while there has been a clear deterioration in the overall human rights situation in Tibet, I would like to raise the following four points that can have grave impact during the term of the next Congress and Administration.
- Religious freedom of the Tibetan people
Several developments in recent times, which follow decades of oppressive policies, indicate that in order to fulfil their political agenda, the Chinese authorities are undermining the very existence of a genuine Tibetan Buddhist tradition in Tibet.
These include adopting regulations that give the Chinese Communist Party the absolute decision making authority on matters concerning Tibetan Buddhism, including promulgating legislation requiring all reincarnated Tibetan Buddhist leaders to obtain government approval. These measures are aimed at controlling and managing the process of the Dalai Lama’s next reincarnation, in order to ensure the dominance of the Party state in Tibet. Chinese official media reports have confirmed that the CCP authorities view the matter of the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation as “an important issue concerning sovereignty and national security.” What the Chinese government has done to the Panchen Lama, who was kidnapped when he was 5 years old and has no longer been seen since then and replaced him with someone appointed by the Chinese Communist Party, is a stark reminder of what China intends to do.
Secondly, there has been increased and intrusive interference in the affairs of the Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and institutes. The most recent case is the demolition process taking place at the Tibetan Buddhist Academy of Larung Gar in Tibet – one of the world’s largest monastic institutions with a population of thousands of Chinese and Tibetan practitioners-and the forced expulsion of several hundreds of monks and nuns from there. Larung Gar has in recent years become a vital center for the study, practice, and promotion of Buddhist teachings.
The most recent demolitions of monks’ and nuns’ dwellings began in July due to restrictions put in place by the Chinese government. According to information received from Tibet, hundreds of monks and nuns from Golog (Chinese: Guoluo) and Jyegudo (Chinese: Yushu) in Qinghai, Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) in Sichuan, and the Tibet Autonomous Region were among those forced to leave Larung Gar in late October this year. Officials and police arrived from their home areas to escort them. Many monks and nuns were compelled to put their thumbprints or sign a document which stated the following in Chinese: In accordance with the requirements of promoting regulation work in the Serthar County Larung Five Sciences Buddhist Academy, I left the Larung Five Sciences Buddhist Academy and will, after returning home, as always continue to love the country and love religion, and abide by the law. I solemnly promise not to return to the Serthar County Larung Five Sciences Buddhist Academy, except to carry out relevant formalities during large-scale Buddhist activities.”
If we do not send a strong message to the Chinese authorities on this, it could be a precursor to many such demolitions of other Tibetan religious institutes.
- Restrictions of Freedom of Movement
From 2012, following the imposition of tough new measures restricting travel in Tibetan areas since the 2008 protests, Tibetans began to face tightening restrictions on their travel abroad, through restrictions on the issuance of passports, including to receive Buddhist teachings from the Dalai Lama, or to study abroad. This is in contrast to the increasing number of Chinese citizens being granted passports and being able to travel abroad with ease.
Since the Dalai Lama is giving an important Tibetan Buddhist teaching in India in January 2017, many Tibetans in Tibet wanted to travel there. In addition to the already existing restrictions for Tibetans in getting a passport, in the last few weeks, Chinese officials have confiscated passports from those Tibetans who have managed to secure one.
Some Tibetans who have already arrived in Nepal and India for pilgrimage and for attending the Buddhist teachings in January have already been ordered to return, and the authorities are as well pressuring their families in Tibet.
China’s discriminatory policy on Tibetan freedom of movement also includes Tibetan Americans who wish to travel to Tibet for pilgrimage or to meet their relatives. The Chinese Embassy and consulates in the United States adopt a different processing system for Tibetan Americans that includes intensive investigation and often end up with denial of visas.
- Use of Counter-terrorism measures to control Tibetans
In Tibet, despite the absence of any violent insurgency, an aggressive ‘counter-terrorism’ drive has been underway resulting in the militarization across the Tibetan plateau. By conflating the expression of distinct religious and ethnic identities with ‘separatism’, and blurring distinctions between violent acts and peaceful dissent, the Chinese government is using counter-terrorism as a justification to crackdown on even mild expressions of religious identity and culture in Tibet.
In line with a ‘counter-terror’ campaign, the Chinese authorities have rolled out new systematic and long-term security measures in Tibet as part of an intensified control agenda.
While rigorous and oppressive measures, including an increase in Communist Party personnel at ‘grass roots’ levels, have been in place since the 2008 protests in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), these measures to eliminate dissent and enforce compliance to Chinese Communist Party policies are now being increasingly observed in the eastern Tibetan areas of Kham and Amdo.
Since October 2011, Chinese authorities have sent tens of thousands of government and party cadres to thousands of villages, religious institutions and neighborhood to monitor and surveil local Tibetans, organize anti-Dalai Lama themed political indoctrination campaigns, and entrench and expand the influence of the CCP in Tibet.
- H.H. the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan issue
On the overall issue of Tibet, the position of His Holiness the Dalai Lama remains unchanged in key areas. His is commitment to the Middle Way is unwavering. He is not seeking independence for Tibet but, rather, genuine, meaningful autonomy for the Tibetan people within the People’s Republic of China reached through a negotiated settlement with the Chinese leadership. He has strengthened democratic values within the Tibetan community in exile, including in handing over all his political authority to the elected Tibetan leadership.
Diplomatic and Political Actions that have worked:
- Presidential meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Successive Presidents of United States have met with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and expressed their support for the Middle Way Approach. This sends a very strong signal to the Chinese authorities that the Issue of Tibet is on the highest of agenda in US-China relations.
- Appointment and the role of Special Coordinator on Tibet
Having a special coordinator on Tibetan Issues in the State Department as mandated by the US Tibet Policy Act of 2002 and its annual report on the status of Sino-Tibet negotiations indicates the importance that US Administration attaches in resolving the Tibetan issue in a non-violent, mutually beneficial negotiated solution without pre-conditions.
- Hearings and reports of the commissions
Meetings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Sikyong, and the Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile with bipartisan, bicameral congressional Foreign Relations Committee; hearings and reports by CECC and Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission helps in informing the congress of the Tibetan perspective of the situation inside Tibet and possible solutions.
- Financial Aids
Financial Aids from State Departments to the Tibetans through USAID, PRM and Scholarship Programs for education, health, social and economic development of Tibetans helps in the preservation and promotion of Tibetan identity.
- Bills and Resolutions
We believe that the introduction of the Reciprocal Access to Tibet bill has built some traction in allowing congressional delegation and journalists visits to Tibet.
- Congressional and State Department visits to Tibet and Dharamsala
The congressional delegation’s visit to China and Tibet provided first hand understanding of the situation inside Tibet and more intimate dialogue with the local leaders. Similarly, visits to Dharamsala also sends a strong signal to China.
Suggestions to the new Administration and the Congress:
- The United States has played a pivotal role in highlighting the human rights situation in Tibet and in encouraging the Chinese Government to improve them. Human rights will be respected if China implements internal reform. US Government need to publicly express concern for the human rights situation in Tibet to send a clear signal to China that this is an integral part of US policy on China
- Advocate for the release of Tibetan political prisoners. The US should advocate for the release of specific Tibetan political prisoners languishing in Chinese prisons. In the past, efforts by the United States and other governments have led to the Chinese authorities releasing some Tibetan political prisoners who were able to come to the United States for medical treatment and rehabilitation. My office will be pleased to provide some names of Tibetan political prisoners.
- An early implementation of the Tibetan Policy Act, including the designation of the US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues at a senior level within the State Department so that the new Administration has its contact person on Tibet in place for effective coordination of work.
- The Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act before the House could also help to promote access to Tibetan areas for U.S. officials, journalists, and citizens. Currently, travel restrictions imposed by the Chinese government on Tibet are more severe than for any other provincial-level entity in China. The approval of the Global Magnitsky Act by the US Congress will send the right message to Chinese officials responsible for human rights violations in Tibet.
- The Administration should impress on China the need to establish US Consulate in Lhasa
- The incoming President should meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the earliest opportunity in keeping with precedents
- The congress and the Administration could raise with the Chinese leadership their discriminatory policies towards the Tibetan people, particularly in the matters of religious freedom and freedom of movement.
- The Administration should monitor China’s misuse of counter terrorism policies in Tibet leading to the denial of fundamental rights of the Tibetan people. As and when necessary this needs to be raised publicly.
- Preserve funding for Tibet-related programs in the Department of State & Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, including economic development; humanitarian assistance; Tibetan language broadcasts through Voice of America and Radio Free Asia; and scholarship and exchange programs. These small but indispensable investments in Tibetan communities support the Dalai Lama’s vision of preserving Tibetan identity during these difficult times until a negotiated agreement is reached.
- The congress should organize more bipartisan, bicameral visits to Tibet and Dharamsala
- Above all, proactive support at the highest level of Government to encourage the Chinese authorities to resume dialogue to resolve the Tibetan issue, as mandated by the Tibetan Policy Act, will eventually improve the human rights situation of the Tibetan people.
I thank you for the opportunity to testify before your Commission and look forward to answering any questions you have.